I hereby continue with the “alphabetical” presentation of my favorite places to visit. After searching the Balkans, today I’m gonna take you to some destinations in the Near East, namely Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. I found out that, they either like very much the letter A in this part of the world, or I still haven’t happended to visit the “A”-places of the west. Actually, my “A”-experience in this direction at present consists only of Amsterdam. I stress that I have not included here my Jordanian favourite places with that letter, as they deserve separate attention.
So, let’s go!
1. Aphrodisias, Turkey
The first of our destinations in the Near East today is an ancient Hellenistic city from the 3rd c. BC bearing the name of Aphrodite and located at a small deviation from the road connecting the favourite resort of Bulgarians, Kusadasi, and the favourite natural phenomenon of everyone, Pamukkale. It was even included in the UNESCO List of World Heritage in 2017. I honestly hope that helped its promotion because, when we visited it some years before that, it was almost us alone at the site.
The city used to be big and iportant, mostly due to the extraction of white and grey-blue marble from nearby hills. This became the basis for the development of many local sculpture schools and the fame that came with their produce. Well, we should also mention the high levels of cultural life in Aphrodisias. Theatre, for example, was a focal point of public life. It is among the excavated buildings within the site, together with several temples (Aphrodite’s of course), a monumental gateway and a stadium. My photo below shows reliefs from the theatre’s walls made by local master sculptors.
2. Aspendos, Turkey
Another ancient city, lying at about 40 km from the famous resort of Antalya today, the center of the region of Pamphylia in the 5th c. BC. It came in and out of Persian conquests several times; surrendered without fight to Alexander the Great and then to the Romans; in short, cared about its ease more than anything else. Maybe that is the reason for the best preserved amphitheatre from the ancient Hellenic world here. This, and the fact that they already renovated it once during the times of the Ottoman Empire, to use as an inn and palace.
Now they hold here the annual International Festival of Opera and Ballet which we had the pleasure of attending. The experience of sitting on the ancient stone steps and enjoying acoustics that people just like us enjoyed more than 2000 years ago, is fascinating. Apart from the theatre, you can see ruins of the city basilica, the agora and a giant nimphaeum (fountain), while nearly 15 km of the Roman aqueduct which used to supply Aspendos with water can still be traced towards the mountains.
3. Antalya, Turkey
We cannot fail to mention the Resort itself (capital R) where everything I see is dedicated to Tourism (capital T). To my personal taste, Antalya is too touristic, the same way as Kusadasi, but that is up to everyone’s private prefereces. I didn’t see any unhappy people recreating around. Furthermore, as it already became clear, there are quite enough interesting places to visit close by, for every taste.
Apart from Aspendos, there is the ancient Perge, the Kursunlu Waterfalls and similar. The bay of Antalya is excellent for sun-bathing, and on September 14th when we visited, the sand was hot under our feet. I mean, I don’t know how it would be in summer but probably it is only for very endurable tourists. I myself will remember the city with the first in my personal history Festival of Sand Sculptures. I have seen others like that in many other places consequently but I was really impressed back then.
4. Assos, Turkey
You will find it on maps as Behramkale but see how much easier the old name is. The ancient site is a big deal; founded almost a full millennium BC, it gathered together famous scientists and philosophers from the Ancient World. Aristotles himself is said to have lived and worked here. If you search for Assos images on the Web, you’ll get some huge columns and some gigantic amphiteatre above the sea. When we went there almost 10 years ago, this seaside hill was still being excavated, so we saw nothing of the grandeur.
I have to admit further that we went there by chance as I was simply looking for a stopover on our long way from Kusadasi to Bulgaria, and there was this lovely guesthouse owned by a naturalized American. What I have remembered Assos with is the most delicious dinner I have ever tasted in Turkey. It was cooked by a father and son in somethng like the small local pub, and served to us on the stone staircase landing, under the vines. With some of their excellent homemade red wine. And in the morning, we even had time to walk around the contemporary stone village. It appears I somehow managed to keep photos only of the local landscapes, so that is what I can offer to you.
5. Al Ain, UAE
Unlike the other mega-cities in the Emirates, Al Ain is not located at the shores of the Indian Ocean but around a large freshwater oasis inside the desert. The oasis today is one of the most visited sites in the town; it comprises numerous orchards of dates, mango, figs, bananas and others of the kind. The gardens belong either to the Emir or his mother, or some other relative, and cover an area of 1200 hectares. You may see them by walking, cycling or riding in any of the electric rickshas.
If you happen to be there in the warm seasons, do not try to cool yourselves in the irrigation ditches. This is the same water from the oasis springs but it flows hot in the summer. Part of the complex are the National Museum of Al Ain and the old palace museum of Sheikh Zayed. I myself found special charm in the Jahili Fort which is not old – some parts were built around the middle of the 20th c. But it seemed to me unlike any other fortress I had ever seen, and had a specific desert-like look.
6. Abu Dhabi, UAE
The last of today’s destinations in the Near East is the little brother of Dubai, just folloing into its steps. For now, the biggest and tallest belongs to the big brother but the love for the grandeur has definitely a hold of this Emirate too. What can you do in Abu Dhabi? I suppose you have to try the favourite passtime of local people, that is, spending your evenings at the Mall. You only have to keep in mind that 36 EUR for two tickets to the cinema (not even 3D), shared pop-corns and two cokes may not worry the locals but to most of us it is something to consider.
Otherwise, I find two things absolutely obligatory in Abu Dhabi – the White Mosque and the Louvre. The first is one of the largest Muslim temples around the globe and is exceptionally beautiful. A fragment of it may be seen on the photo at the beginning of this post. If you have not come prepared with long sleeves and trousers for the men and long skirts and head scarves for the women, they are prepared to dress you up there. The abaya they offer to the ladies is so nice that I tried to buy one but was unfortunately unsuccessful. And the Louvre of Abu Dhabi is one of the best planned and implemented museum projects in the world. Made with imagination and vision. They even succeeded to ‘capture’ the ocean inside.
I hope my suggestions of favorite destinations in the Near East appealed to you. The letter A has more to offer, so look up to it.